Laverne Cox, who plays transgender hairstylist Sophia Burset on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, revealed in an interview with Time magazine that she was so conflicted about her gender and sexuality as an adolescent that she tried to kill herself.
"During puberty, the attraction for other boys got really strong," Cox tells Time. "And I learned in church that was a sin. I imagined that my grandmother was looking down on me and that she knew what I was thinking, because she's in heaven. I just imagined that I was disappointing her and it just was devastating for me. So I went to the medicine cabinet and got a bottle of pills. And took them. And swallowed them. And went to sleep, hoping not to wake up. ... I thought that they would kill me but they didn't."
In the cover story, which describes transgender rights as "America's next civil rights frontier," Cox discusses growing up in Alabama with her mother and twin brother, during which time she was bullied for appearing feminine. (Fun fact: Her brother plays Sophia pre-transition on OITNB.) The actress says she began to suspect she was transgender in third grade.
"I just thought that I was a girl and that there was no difference between girls and boys," she tells Time. "I think in my imagination I thought that I would hit puberty and I would start turning into a girl. ... Going to a therapist and the fear of God being placed in me about ending up in New Orleans wearing a dress, that was a profoundly shaming moment for me. I associated it with being some sort of degenerate."
With celebrities like herself and activist Janet Mock at the forefront of the transgender rights movement, Cox says transgender children have resources they can turn to now that she never had. "It makes you feel like you're less alone and gives some sort of sense of, 'Okay, this is who I am and this is what I'm going through,' as opposed to being, 'What the f*** is wrong with me?'" she tells Time. "That was what I grew up with."
Despite her confusion about her identity, Cox says she was always sure of one thing: that she wanted to perform and be famous. "What was the saving grace for me is that I had this great imagination and I was a good student and I loved to perform. The imagination that I used for that creative work was very life-sustaining for me and it continues to be."
Read Cox's full interview with Time here.
The second season of Orange Is the New Black premieres on Netflix on Friday, June 6. Catch up on previous episodes here.
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